Buying a TV

Considering said TV was delivered a week ago, this post is a little overdue.

After we chose a sofa (again, another overdue post yet to be written), we decided it was safe to order a telly. We aren’t quite videophiles, but we do like a great picture for tv and films. We researched our last TV – our first ever flatscreen, bought as a reward after remodeling the lounge in 2008 – fairly extensively. Back then, we were torn between Samsung and Sony, ultimately deciding on the Sony Bravia KDLX3000. At the time, it was Sony’s top of the range LCD and featured a great picture and sleek exterior styling. Selling it four years later, it was still in perfect condition and working wonderfully (albeit still only worth about 1/3 what we paid for it originally – grumble grumble).

This time, we wanted LED. Not only are they power efficient (described as “the TV for Prius owners” – done), they are ultra-thin, which is one of Mark’s top 3 requirements for a TV these days.  Taking a break from furniture shopping, we stopped in Best Buy to browse options. With this apartment nearly twice as big as our last and featuring a large open-plan lounge/dining area, a 40” telly was far too small. In fact, even 46” was looking pretty little (admittedly, we were in a huge shop, so conceptualizing scale is hard), so we decided 50-55” was the way to go.

We started comparing Sony and Samsung again (we’re typically brand loyalists), and were greeted by a sales assistant the moment we looked like legit buyers (ie browsing at a particular model for more than 2.5 seconds). I’m not sure if it was her first day, or if she’s just not great at her job, but the conversation went like this:

Sales rep: So, you’re looking for TVs… (enthusiastically) will you be watching a lot of sports?

Us: No, none at all, actually.

Sales rep: Well, this one over here is great for sports!

Us: Er… yeah, we’ll mostly be watching regular tv and some movies

Sales rep: […additional schpeal about Plasma v. LED…] You know how sometimes you’re watching tv in a dark room, and it’s so bright it feels like it’s going to burn your eyes out?

Us: Er… no, not really – we didn’t have that problem before

Sales rep: Well this one doesn’t do that!

Another (I guess more knowledgeable?) sales rep came over to add his 2 cents. I commented I thought the picture looked smoother on the higher refresh rate models (240Hz compared to 120Hz). He dismissively told me that “wasn’t how it worked” and moved on to his next point… Now… again… I’m not a videophile and I know next to nothing about TV technology… and maybe there is some other piece of technology that was also different between the models I was comparing, but every single time I looked at a telly and thought “oh, that looks like a great, smooth picture” it happened to be a 240Hz model… even comparing the seemingly identical Sony TVs, whose only point of differentiation according to their display literature was meant to be refresh rate, so I don’t know. I do know I wasn’t a fan of the guy treating me like an idiot.

Best Buy’s free delivery option made it a compelling store in spite of the sales staff, so we said we’d keep looking on our own and let him know when we decided which model to order. We continued comparing models, and ultimately wandered into the “Magnolia” area. I guess this is a special high-end sub-store. The TVs were very impressive, and (thankfully) the specialist Magnolia sales staff seemed much more helpful and less belittling. All their TVs were plasma rather than LED/LCD, and we heard a pretty sensible-sounding explanation about why plasma is the “best” tv option. They were actually pretty comparably priced (and in some cases, cheaper) than the LED TVs we liked, making it an even more compelling option. The only down-side was Magnolia’s delivery fee.

We decided to do a little online research first, in particular further researching LED v plasma, and found this article. The plasma downsides were sufficiently insignificant in our case – ie even though plasma consumes more power, we watch a below-average amount of TV per year and the cost difference would likely be sub $5/yr between our preferred models. Also, considering we watch TV almost exclusively at night, and our new apartment isn’t as sunlight-rich as the Wapping flat, less brightness wasn’t an issue. With that, we were set on plasma.

I searched for the 2 models we liked in Magnolia – the Samsung E7000 and Panasonic GT50 (Sony doesn’t do plasmas, and even when we were considering LED, Sony’s picture didn’t seem as crisp or deep as Samsung). Both models were comparably priced and had great reviews. Reading CNET’s review, however, I learned the Panasonic had a ‘younger sibling’ (ST50) that was rated as the best flatscreen on the market. The ST had almost all the same features as the GT, and the only things missing were features I was so disinterested in, I can’t even remember them 2 weeks later. The ST50 was also $200 cheaper! With our Amazon Prime (trial) membership, we’d get free delivery and a 30 day free return option, too. We mulled it over, re-read reviews, discussed the pros/cons and finally ordered. We subsequently learned Amazon is somehow exempt from charging sales tax (I’m guessing they’ve HQ’d their distribution chain in a no sales tax state, but not totally sure), effectively saving another 7.25% compared to purchasing at Best Buy. #win

Sadly, finding a TV stand wasn’t quite as easy, and we worried the telly would be living on the floor for a week or two. We wanted something as sleek and furniture-like as our last piece (ie not just a plastic stand), which also offered a nice size balance . We ummed and ahhed over a few, and finally decided on something we both really liked the day before our TV delivery and were able to pick it up with the U-Haul last weekend (surprise, surprise – it looks almost identical to our old one – see Moving In progress pictures). As soon as it was in place, we knew we made the right decision, and when the (super thin) TV was delivered, we were totally confident with our choices.

So far we’ve watched a bit of TV using an omni-directional antenna (we didn’t want cable), a couple episodes of Mob Wives on Amazon Prime streaming and rented a movie on AppleTV (related: Wanderlust SUCKS – I want my five bucks back and can not recommend NOT watching it highly enough!). In all cases (and despite the quality of the content), the image was fantastic. The sound was pretty great, too, which was a relief. We are also not audiophiles, but we’d heard flatter TVs require such small speakers that it can sound quite muffled or tinny, but it doesn’t! Overall, we’re very pleased with our latest gadget purchase, and glad to have come in under our original budget.

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